August 2013 update

UKChSA BIOT POLICY REVIEW SUBMISSION

Last month the association made its final submissions to the BIOT Policy Review Team which followed an invitation for stakeholders to provide their views which was opened in June.  This invitation ensured that a promise to “take stock” following last December’s highly controversial ECHR ruling was actually fulfilled.  Our contribution was put together by our Joint-Patron Philippa Gregory, UKChSA Chair Sabrina Jean, & Lou Dawson:

 

Introduction

Thank you for granting us the opportunity to offer an overview of the areas we believe are important to be considered in the up-coming review. We look forward to a collaborative working relationship over the coming months as we consider the various options and ideas available for resettlement of the community.

Who we are

The UK Chagos Supporters Association was founded in 2001 to support all
Chagossians in exile, wherever they might be in the world. The Association is
committed to working for the Chagossians’ right to return to their islands, as well as supporting the community in welfare-related areas in a more day-to-day capacity. It provides funding for activity in training, education, sport, wellbeing and culture, and coordinates a wide network of volunteers involved in supporting the islanders in their campaign for justice.

Addressing the so-called ‘barriers’ to return

We are not going to address in this submission all of the specific arguments which have been raised against the possibility of return, for two reasons. Firstly, many have been dealt with already by our colleagues in their submissions. Second, we are confident that the review process, if conducted in a transparent and fair manner, as officials have assured us it will be, will show that the traditional arguments against return are without serious merit – it seems sensible to wait for the feasibility study to do the work it is meant to do. We will of course be happy to comment in further detail on any arguments against return if and when they emerge throughout the stages of the feasibility study.

Right of return

We would like it noted that we do not think that  asking who within the community would like to return and who would not like to return, where they would like to settle and what services they would require is a particularly useful exercise at this stage of the process.

Our perspective on the right of return is that every Chagossian should be given the right to choose. Some may want to return immediately, some in a few months or years time. Some may believe now they do not want to return, and that view may change over time. Some may return and then want to come back. Some may only want to visit. We believe all should have the right to do any or all of these things. Further, we believe it is unrealistic and in fact, unfair to ask people now, without any understanding of what they would be returning ‘to’, if they wish to go back. Our view is that it is up to the Government, the community and the other stakeholders, together throughout this process, to determine what is intended, feasible, desirable, and so on – in the short/mid/longer term – and for the community then to be given the chance to decide what it is they want to do / when / in what way / and so on. In short, Chagossians must be given the right to return, and then all stakeholders can determine the circumstances.

A note on transparency & trust

We cannot stress how central a genuinely transparent process is going to be if the
Government wants to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the community about their
resettlement. The decades of highs and lows of hope, despair, victory and loss, through the multiple legal and political cases and campaigns has taken its toll, fostering a climate of fear and suspicion as to government intentions. There is a significant level of scepticism about this current review and feasibility study, and an anxiety that it is just another exercise in stalling. This scepticism exists not only amongst the Chagossian community themselves, but within many of their volunteers and advisors and supporters. Some Chagossians even fear being transported back to the islands against their will.

These are not unfounded fears – to distrust this review is a more rational response than to trust it. To highlight some of the foundations of these fears:
The British government transported them once against their will, why not again?
The community saw their hard won right to return in 2000 overturned by the Foreign
Secretary in 2004 by undemocratic Orders in Council. They are constantly told they
have been ‘compensated’ for their loss, when many were excluded from the arrangements entirely, or received very little, or received nothing, or knew nothing of what rights they were being asked to give up. They’ve been barred access to their oceans via the creation of an MPA consciously designed to stop them from returning.

When the Government looks at this review it is important to recognise that the injustice which the community has experienced is cumulative. We are not talking about a single act of injustice committed in the 1960s. We are talking about a catalogue of injustices which have taken place since. If the Government is genuine in its intent of a fair review of policy & feasibility, if it wants the islanders’ active participation in this study, and if it wants the support of the numerous consultants available and willing to volunteer expertise in the various areas, then the only way to gain sufficient trust for this to happen will be to come forward with a meaningful process for transparency and participation throughout.

Some suggestions for transparency and positive working relations are as follows:

– The setting up of a stakeholder group / committee of representatives made up of a
combination of Chagossian community leaders and key members of their volunteer
base (legal, communications, political, environmental, etc).

– Opportunity to contribute and agree to the proposed terms of reference for the
study following the initial consultation, before it commences.

– A timeline for the key dates throughout the process including both the feasibility study and the policy review, to be agreed at the outset of the study, and to include phased responses on each of the areas being evaluated (e.g. the brief, the process, initial responses, final submission, etc).

– Participation along the way in ‘what’ will be being reviewed in each aspect of the study and by ‘whom’, i.e. a collaborative approach giving the committee the
opportunity to include recommendations for personnel involved and the areas to
examine.

– The establishment of a website where all material for the feasibility study can be published and therefore open to public and journalistic scrutiny.

In addition to the ideas above, keeping the community up to date on the conversations taking place between the UK and the US is vital.

Areas we would like to see included in the review

It may be that some of what is written below is already being included in your review, but we wanted to highlight two main areas which we feel are important. One regards the terms of reference for the review. The other regards the economics of resettlement.

Area 1: terms of reference: what it means to live in exile

– consideration of the costs of ‘inaction’ as well as ‘action’

– consideration of emotional and psychological costs, as well as financial costs

– offsetting of costs: UK cost savings set against investment in resettlement

Chagossians experience a range of complex issues as a result of living in exile. Cultural alienation, poverty, mismatching skills to the environment, language problems and racism, are just a few. They suffer endless legal and financial challenges with regard to their citizenship, visas, and passports – often resulting in families being separated from one another in different parts of the world – not allowed to live together, not even able to afford to travel to see one another. The pain the community feels is made incalculably worse by their situation as unwilling exiles, and the knowledge that many of these problems come as a direct consequence of their illegal deportation.

While some of the difficulties they face are thought of as technically outside the terms of reference for this review, we feel strongly that since the overall destruction of the Chagossian’s culture, way of life and family life, have all been caused as a result of their expulsion from the islands, the review must take this into account. Further, we ask that the Government considers not just the cost of ‘action’ (i.e. resettlement) but the cost of ‘inaction’ – in order that it does not see maintenance of the status quo in relation to the Chagossians as being benign. It is worth noting that the costs of choosing not to resettle the community over the course of the last four decades – through the legal system, political system, local councils, and so on – have already been vast – it is our view that these costs should be considered alongside the costs of the alternative for this to be recognised as a complete review.

We believe it is important this review be mindful that the damage of continued exile is not fading through the generations – in many ways it is becoming more acute and painful for the community as the years go on. The sense of injustice at the contradictory, exceptional and unfit law on citizenship which specifically excludes some Chagossians and not others, grows with every generation.

The misery endured by the older generation is well documented and the Government
should note in this review the many Chagossians who are not here to witness this latest evaluation of the situation, having already died, often in tragic circumstances, as a result of their forced exile. But the younger generation are suffering too: facing the numerous problems around housing, work, racism and family life and living with the knowledge that their parents had homes, had work, and a beautiful way of life, which they have been barred from inheriting.

The community as a whole is now better educated about their case and has an acute
understanding of their rights and the injustices they have endured. The Government
should therefore understand that pressure from the community – and its growing
international supporter base in this age of transparency and information – is only going to increase.

Area 2: Life on the islands

We have been aware that in this initial consultation around the new study the
Government has been asking questions regarding what the islanders would intend to do when back on the islands, and what they would like to see included within the feasibility study, based on that.

Whilst we understand why these questions are being asked, we would like it noted that if the team involved in the consultation so far have found it difficult to access this information, it is not because it does not exist, nor because the community is not capable of providing this or knowing what they would do if they lived back on the islands.

This is not intended as a criticism of the consultation, but just by way of offering some insight based on our experience of working within the community: it is down in part to the way in which the questions are being asked, and the fact that the structure of communications within the community does not mirror the structure of communications within political discourse / processes, etc. It is also down to the issue pointed to in our note on the right of return around the validity of asking questions about resettlement without providing information – in short, the community do not know what they will be ‘allowed’ to do and this makes it very difficult for them to express how they would build a life – the complex regulations of the MPA which allow for fishing for an individual, but not fishing for barter or gifts, is a typical example of legislation which undermines the traditional ways of life and leaves the community confused as to what they can do.

We therefore feel it perhaps most useful at this stage of the review, rather than to focus on the numerous possibilities of life on the islands and the wide variety of skills available within the community to make use of the resources, instead to identify some of the questions which sit as barriers to progress in these areas currently, in the hope that the Government will answer what it can straight away and include what it cannot within the review:

1) Will the Government be reviewing the resettlement possibilities on all islands in this study, including Diego Garcia, as well as the outer islands, as we believe it should?

2) What are the current opportunities for growing coconuts on the islands / what
would be required to make this activity viable? How long would it take? What would
be the cost?

3) What restrictions does the government envisage there being in relation to ecotourism under the current terms of the MPA / how might they be adapted to make
this possible?

4) What type of fishing activity, sustainable shore/boat based, home/export market
might be appropriate?

5) What form of land tenure that might be developed for the islands, e.g. leasehold/freehold?

6) What immigration policy does BIOT envisage and what will be the relationship with UK, Mauritian, Seychelles citizenship?

7) What does the Government envisage being the terms on which the Chagossian
community can develop their own private sector relationships, or does the government plan to do this on their behalf?

8) The community and its network have a wide variety of connections & expertise
available within the area of potential private sector partnerships – would the
Government be interested in creating a joint ‘enterprise initiatives committee’ for
example, to help explore this area?

A note on timings

Finally we ask that the Government treat this review with the urgency it deserves.
The native islanders who have lived in exile for four decades are elderly now and for them there is very little time left if they are to go home. The living conditions of many Chagossians are unbearable, and there is only so long people can survive this extent of suffering and hardship.

We also believe that if the Government is willing to work in collaboration with the
community and its supporters and advisers, together we can expedite this process, which is surely beneficial to all involved. So much work has already been done with regard to resettlement, and if the government is willing to draw on this and the wealth of expertise and knowledge within the community and its network, we feel sure we can work more effectively and move faster than the 18-month estimate that has been given.

We look forward to working together over the coming months and once again, thank
you for the opportunity to make a submission at this stage.

 

PETER HARRIS

Long time supporter and Facebook pioneer Peter Harris writing on the Online Forum Open Democracy offered a note of caution on the back of recent news regarding a new feasibility study looking into the resettlement of the outer area of the Chagos Islands:

 

It is unquestionable that military-security and environmental concerns pertain to BIOT. The future of the territory is not simply an issue of whether the Chagossians are able to resettle there. Nor should anybody pretend otherwise. Yet it is absolutely critical that the study be conducted without prejudice or deference to either of these issue-areas. To do otherwise would be to bias the study against resettlement from the outset.

 

Allowing military-strategic or environmental considerations to pollute the feasibility study would also be double standards. Consider, for example, the Government’s public consultation on whether to establish the Chagos MPA. Whitehall made clear in its consultation document that any decision regarding the MPA would be made “without prejudice” to the Chagossians’ right of return. Respondents to the consultation were encouraged to divorce the issues – supporting environmental protection in BIOT, the public was assured, did not entail a rejection of the Chagossians’ human rights. The two issues were neatly compartmentalised, presented as distinct and discrete from one another.

 

Of course, it borders on the absurd to suggest that London and Washington have taken the Chagossians’ concerns into account when making decisions regarding the creation, expansion and continuation of the US base on Diego Garcia. Nor did either government consider issues of environmental protection when blasting and dredging Diego Garcia’s lagoon or paving a runway big enough to accommodate a space shuttle.

 

Instead, military-security and environmental issues always have been scrutinised on their own merits without regard to the broader political milieu that envelops the Chagos Archipelago. Such single-mindedness has allowed the strategic and environmental value of the Chagos Islands to be fully investigated and widely aired, with the proponents of the military base and advocates of the MPA alike thus being able to make their respective cases to the public and to policy-makers. These interests have had their say.

 

Depriving the Chagossians of the same opportunity to have their desired future for BIOT – that is, a restoration of the right to return and permission to resettle – to be fully explored would be a double standard, another shameful chapter to an already “sordid tale”. As such, the feasibility of resettlement must be established with reference solely to the feasibility of resettlement per se, not with reference to the US military’s interests or the views of a select group of conservationists.

 

At the broadest level, evaluating resettlement on its own terms means that the resettlement of Diego Garcia should not be ruled out a priori. Everybody knows that the US would not countenance such an outcome, but any decision to bar resettlement of Diego Garcia must be made in public as a naked political move and not under the guise of impracticability. Resettlement of the outer islands with access to the logistical and medical facilities on Diego Garcia should also be considered. Open mindedness regarding a reformulation of the currently anti-resettlement MPA framework must be a given.

 

An impassioned article from someone who has been a wonderful supporter for several years.  The association wishes to add that while we agree with most aspects of this post, it should be noted that we do not necessarily share Peter’s analysis of the US position.

 

NEWS FROM THE CHAGOS REFUGEES GROUP (CRG)

The scholarship to C.P.E 2012 and refund of S.C and H.S.C fees was scheduled on Wednesday 7th August, 2013 at Marie Lisette Talate Chagossian Community Centre. By assisting the Chagossian community in school expenditures the Chagossian Welfare Fund Board is encouraging education which according to the Board is the key to success.

 

The scholarship of Rs 6000/- given to those who have brilliantly succeeded in the C.P.E 2012 exam and the consolation prize of Rs 3000/- given to those who have fairly succeeded (on presentation of their 3rd term result slips and proof of family relation to a Chagossian)  is to help them with their school expenditures at secondary level. In addition there is a follow up in the study of the beneficiaries of the scholarships by the Chagossian Welfare Fund Board in terms of school accompaniment. Parents of the beneficiaries should bear the responsibility of bringing their child’s result slips of each school term to the Chagossian Welfare Fund Board for the follow up- to see whether the beneficiary is performing well in his/her study or if ever there is a kind of regression or any problem.

 

In refunding the SC & HSC fees, once again the Chagossian Welfare Fund Board is encouraging education and is also assisting needy students. Being aware that the exam fees of SC & HSC is quite a big sum, the Chagossian Welfare Fund Board has made provision for refunding the fees on presentation of receipt and evidence of Chagossian kinship by the students and this is in the spirit of encouraging the students to do further studies and not to stop at SC and HSC level. A follow up is also done here again especially for SC students to see their performance till HSC level. Students have the responsibility to bring their result slips to the Board for the follow up. As an encouragement to education some examples of tertiary students have been cited by the chairman on that occasion. Financial aid is also provided to tertiary students. He also mentioned the availability of a psychologist, and advised the parents to inform the Board in case his services would be needed.

 

 

 

 

 

The Youth Residential Seminar on the theme “La Jeunesse Saine” was organised with the purpose of teaching a healthy lifestyle to the youngsters (Chagossians’ descendants) so that they take a step towards a productive future, both physically and professionally. The seminar was held from Saturday August 3rd, 2013 until Monday August 5th 2013 at the Belle Mare Recreation Centre.

 

Because of the social illnesses and diseases of today it is important that certain topics should be treated among the youngsters so that they become aware of how to live a better life. In this respect, resource persons were invited to inform the youngsters. On Saturday there was a talk on Youth Reproductive Health by representative of MFPWA that has been very rewarding in the sense that the youngsters did learn things that they did not know before and which will be very helpful for them in the future. On Sunday there was a talk on Healthy living and Stress by representative of “Youth for a Better World”. This session has been very well received by the youngsters as they learned how to manage any stressing situation. They also had a historical session on the Chagos islands so that they better know their origins and become more aware of how things have gone and is going on in the Chagos case.  In order to focus the youngsters during the seminar, kit and training pack were offered to them on their arrival.

 

In the spirit of a healthy life a balanced diet was served whether it was for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sports and leisure activities were also organized for the youngsters so that they could enjoy themselves in a healthy manner. In addition the youngsters participated in entertainment programs like for example, sketch, songs, dance, slams, etc… This helped in developing their personality and in discovering new talents amongst the young Chagossians.

 

The youngsters did learn a lot from the seminar whether it is in general knowledge, in personality and even in friendship as they did learn community life. To some extent they learnt the sense of responsibility as well. And at the end they were given a certificate of participation.

 

DAVID CARRINGTON

Last month a request was made on our social networking platforms to appeal to supporters to write an article for our August edition on our cause.  As regular readers will know, the summer months can be quite tricky to provide content to bring you for an edition of the newsletter.  One of our supporters David Carrington who we originally found on Twitter responded to the call.  His superb piece reflects on recent events surrounding Gibraltar in the light of the hypocritical British position over the principle of self-determination in the context of the Chagos Islanders.

 

The disputes over Gibraltar have again cast a harsh light on British hypocrisy over self-determination and international law.

 

David Cameron repeatedly asserts that the right to self-determination protects British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and this week Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar said, “if Spain thinks that self determination does not apply to the people of Gibraltar let us take this issue to … the Hague. That will determine once and for all whether we do have the right to self determination or not.”

 

Whether the people of Gibraltar or the Falkland Islanders possess this right or not, the UK’s willingness to play that card is plain double dealing, given its refusal to acknowledge that the right applies to the Chagossians.

 

The right to self-determination is jus cogens, a prerogative norm of international law, meaning that it’s a right that you can’t avoid. Ever since the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in 1969, this right can unmake international agreements if they don’t respect it.

 

Almost every action by the UK in Chagos has served to contravene the right of the Chagossians to self determination. From the partition of from Mauritius, itself a contravention of UN resolution 1514 and Article 37 of the UN Charter (which stated non-self governing territories were held on “sacred trust” by colonial powers), through the leasing of Diego Garcia and the establishment of the Marine Protection Area, the UK has acted as if it can do whatever it likes with the islands. Lord Hoffman said as much in the second Bancoult case when he said that there was never any requirement that the UK’s power to run a colony should be “for the benefit of the inhabitants of the colony”.

 

That comment (made in 2008 and not at the height of the British Empire), echoed FCO memos from the 1960s about “maintaining the fiction” of a transient population and comments by Colin Robert, Foreign Office director of overseas territories, reported in the Wikileaks cables that “no human footprints” or “Man Fridays” would touch the islands and that the UK did “not regret the removal of the population”.

 

The approach of the UK is essentially, that if something is run by them, then they can do what they like with them, no matter what international law might say.

 

STEALING A NATION SCREENINGS

Earlier this year we brought you news about a series of free public screenings of John Pilger‘s award winning Chagos documentary, Stealing A Nation, which helped to promote our work to new audiences.  The sessions proved to be a success and the original coordinator Adam Burton hopes to announce a further series of free screenings soon.

 

Consequently a new web page to promote the screenings was launched earlier this month which provides information about the film, the history of the Islanders’ displacement and forced exile.  It also has extensive details regarding forthcoming screenings as well as links to useful web sites, articles and a mailing list for event updates.

 

Screenings are being currently being organised to take place in October and November. Please visit the page and sign up for the mailing list or follow the newly created dedicated Twitter feed.  Each screening is followed by an open discussion about the film and how we can support the Chagossian campaign for return.

 

Most screenings will take place in London. If you know of a venue in London that might host a screening or would like to help organise screenings near where you live please contact Adam via email.  Adam is hoping to show the film as widely as possible throughout the rest of this year and the next.  Suitable locations include: cafes, bars, community halls, schools, colleges, universities, bookshops, art galleries or festivals. If you have a location in mind or work somewhere that could show the film, he will be happy to discuss any suggestions and can be contacted directly.

 

Adam is happy to consider invitations to screen the film elsewhere in the UK but he does reside in London so travelling could be logistically challenging. However he is able to offer support and promotional literature should anybody wish to organise their own screening elsewhere in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A LESSER DEPENDENCY

My predecessor has highly recommended that our readers find themselves a copy of Peter Benson’s political novel ‘A Lesser Dependency’ as a matter of urgency.  Although a fictional piece it movingly epitomises what happened to the Chagos Islanders four decades ago.  The following is a review which Celia has sourced for us:

 

A trenchant critique of modern civilization, A Lesser Dependency movingly describes how one family’s tropical heaven became hell. In 1971 the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a place too small to find on a map and one of the last paradisical outposts of the Empire, were suddenly evicted from their homes to make way for a US military base.

 

Celia Whittaker actually stumbled across the book at a library around a decade ago but unfortunately the novel had been out of print for many years.  It is thankfully now available from Amazon as well as all other established booklists.